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Race and superheroes: touching fanboy politics’ third rail

from Spider-Man: Fever #1 by Brendan McCarthy

from Spider-Man: Fever #1 by Brendan McCarthy

Warning: People who use the phrase “playing the race card” need not apply to the following post. I guess that rules out, y’know, our entire political class, but oh well. Anyway, a trio of recent pieces have taken on the issue of race in contemporary superhero comics and movies.

Perhaps the most high-profile of the three pieces is Chris Sims’s essay on “the racial politics of regressive storytelling” for Comics Alliance. Sims argues that DC Comics’ current penchant for restoring the Silver Age versions of Green Lantern, the Flash, the Atom, the Legion of Super-Heroes and so on has the unintentional but regrettable effect of pushing their successors — in many cases, non-white characters created to replace their slain or off-stage white predecessors — to the sidelines. While he’s quite clear that he doesn’t believe Geoff Johns or any of the other writers or editors involved are motivated by racial animus, he laments the way in which several decades’ worth of minority characters are now becoming “footnotes” in the race to create comics that evoke the creators’ and readers’ memories of their childhood favorites. I’m sympathetic to the obvious truth in Sims’s argument — replacing Ryan Choi with Ray Palmer, for example, does indeed “whiten” the Atom concept once again. But as I wrote in an essay on my own blog, I think the blame lies not with Johns and his Rebirths and Brightest Day and so on, but with the creators who, instead of creating strong non-white characters out of whole cloth like Luke Cage or Storm or Black Panther, simply put new guys in the old guys’ outfits, thus all but inviting readers to think of them as substitutes and pine for their original favorites.

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